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Barnett placed on administrative leave

'Unacceptable' comments led to school's decision

DENVER — Colorado football coach Gary Barnett was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday night over comments he made after a former player alleged she was raped by a teammate four years ago.

School president Elizabeth Hoffman said Barnett had made "unacceptable" comments about former kicker Katie Hnida.

"They were extremely inappropriate and insensitive. Rape is a horrific allegation and it should be taken seriously," Hoffman said.

The move was latest at a school that's been hit with an almost daily barrage of accusations against its football program, including rapes and alcohol-fueled sex parties for recruits.

Hnida, one of the first women to play college football, made her allegations Tuesday. While university officials urged Hnida, 22, to tell her story to police, Barnett said he knew of no one who could back up her claim.

Asked why she left Colorado after the 1999 season, he said: "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful."

"Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it," he said.

Hnida said Tuesday said she has been in contact with Colorado authorities, but did not expect to file charges "at this time." Hnida said she didn't tell police back then because she was afraid of the player and didn't want a "media mess."

In a sworn statement made public last month, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan accused the university football program of using sex and alcohol to lure promising high school athletes.

School officials denied the allegations but promised to investigate.

While proud of its academics, the school has caused embarrassment for Boulder over the years.

In 2000, raucous off-campus parties turned into student riots. Princeton Review recently declared Colorado the No. 1 party school, based on its students' lack of studying and affinity for marijuana and alcohol.

The football team has brought in millions of dollars and won a national title in 1990. But it has a long history of scandal: In 1962, questions over whether recruits were paid to attend cost a coach his job. A Sports Illustrated cover story in the 1980s documented how players were accused of everything from drunken driving to serial rape. The school was slapped with NCAA sanctions two years ago for recruiting violations.

The latest scandal appears to be the worst yet, and its roots date at least to 1997, when a 17-year-old high school student accused a football player of rape after a recruiting party.

No charges were filed, but three women have since sued the school, saying it fostered an environment that led to their rapes by football players or recruits at or just after an off-campus party in 2001.

Boulder County prosecutor Mary Keenan decided against assault charges but has reopened the investigation and says she believes the athletics program entices recruits with sex and alcohol. That allegation was denied by university officials but prompted a demand for action from Gov. Bill Owens.

University officials are looking into recruiting practices and are hiring a special assistant to oversee athletics, but the allegations have not stopped. A player admitted taking a recruit to a strip club, while a former recruiting aide said he used a school cell phone to call an escort service for his personal use.

On Wednesday, Boulder police released a report from a woman who worked at the athletic department and alleged she was raped by a football player in her home Sept. 28, 2001. Barnett and athletic director Dick Tharp were informed of the allegation, according to the report.

The player said the sex was consensual and the case was closed when the woman declined to pursue charges.

Boulder has been abuzz with the scandal.

"I've always been much prouder of the fact CU won the solar decathlon than that CU had a winning football team," said Mayor Will Toor, also director of the University of Colorado Environmental Center.

Pam Penfold, a 1970 Colorado graduate who is now editor of CU's Coloradan magazine, said it is unfortunate that an "incident of college kids involving alcohol" has gotten more attention than the school's achievements.

"I don't mean to be paranoid, but it seems to me CU gets picked on, when it's typical of every athletic department at every school in the country," she said.

Players, their parents and alumni say the media have blown the cases out of proportion and insist no sex parties are arranged for recruits.

Still, said former quarterback Bobby Pesavento, football players are treated differently from other students. "You're kind of put on a pedestal, and people notice who you are," he said.